“I deeply regret the decision by the Malian authorities to declare my representative, Guillaume Ngefa, as persona non grata and to order him to leave the country in 48 hours,” Volker Türk said.
Mr. Ngefa, Director of the Human Rights Division of the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and Representative of the High Commissioner in Mali, had been declared persona non grata in an announcement Malian authorities made on Sunday. Mr. Ngefa was already outside Mali when the decision was announced.
Troubled by intimidation and harassment his representative has recently faced on social media platforms, Mr. Türk, head of OHCHR, said UN staff “must never be threatened or sanctioned for doing their work”, which is based on the founding Charter and principles of the United Nations.
The UN has long maintained that the doctrine of persona non grata is not applicable to its personnel. It is contrary to the obligations of Member States under the UN Charter, including those concerning the privileges and immunities of the UN and its staff.
‘Integral to peacekeeping’
“Human rights are integral to peacekeeping,” Mr. Türk stressed. “I urge the authorities to create a respectful, safe and enabling environment for human rights work in Mali, which is more crucial than ever in the current context.”
He also urged Malian authorities to ensure better respect for and protection of human rights defenders.
“No one should face reprisals for speaking out on human rights issues,” he said.
Mali is entering the eleventh year of a security crisis. MINUSMA was established in 2013 following insecurity in the north and a failed military coup by Islamist rebels, who still hold sway across much of the north and centre of the country.
Briefing the Security Council at the end of last month, UN Special Representative and Head of MINUSMA El-Ghassim Wane had cautioned that stabilizing Mali is crucial for the country and the region.
Independent UN expert visit
The decision to expel Mr. Ngefa comes as an independent UN expert on the situation of human rights in Mali is scheduled to conduct an official visit from 6 to 17 February ahead of presenting an annual report to the Human Rights Council in March.